Monday, July 11, 2016

Chocolate's role in Newport history

The American Revolution, chocolate, and our national historic treasures—
When Jews immigrated to America in their ever-evolving diaspora, they were not allowed to have slaves, so they turned to trade. Chocolate was the commodity which played an integral role in the development of important Newport landmarks, and indeed, many of Rhode Island's most valued national historic treasures.
In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain expelled all Jews from the country, forcing their flight to lands far from Spain. A similar treatment of Jews occurred in Portugal, where Jews were forced to become Catholic and called "New Christians." Jewish children were taken from their families to be raised by Catholic families. Sephardic Jews fled Spanish held countries and Portugal and migrated to Amsterdam, the West Indies and, eventually, New Amsterdam. Because they were not allowed to have slaves in America, they forwent plantation life, and turned to trade with their flight city of Amsterdam and brought the first cocoa into America via the West Indies.

The chocolate trade was further fueled during the American Revolution by the colonists' refusal to drink tea, when coffee and hot chocolate became the libations of choice for early mornings and afternoons. An important colonial chocolate trader was Aaron Lopez, of Newport, who, not only imported cocoa, but also manufactured chocolate. One of his primary chocolate producers was Prince Updike, a black man.

Born Duarte Lopez in 1731, in Lisbon, Portugal, Lopez and his family professed Catholicism, but practiced Judaism in secret, while living in Portugal. After migrating to America and settling in Newport, Lopez became Aaron and practiced Judaism openly. He succeeded as the wealthiest man in all of Newport by trading in whale oil, candles, ships, barrels, and chocolate.

Aaron Lopez was a generous philanthropist and contributed to the building of Touro Synagogue and was honored by laying one of its cornerstones. Lopez also contributed lumber for the building of the College of Rhode Island, which later became Brown University in Providence, and he as well purchased books in the founding of Redwood Library, America's oldest lending library in Newport.

Shipping records show that the first cacao beans brought to Rhode Island docked at the port of Newport in 1763 and later, Providence in 1807, yet the bulk of cacao bean-laden cargoes were received in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Boston where the bounty of chocolate merchants were clustered. The fact that merchants were willing to load an entire ship with nothing but cocoa, 150 tons or 300,000 pounds, proves how important a commodity cocoa was to the economy.

Indeed, the role of chocolate in colonial America is one of substantial importance, as cacao beans, the sweet treat ground from them, and the utensils early settlers used to imbibe were once a major commodity noted in medicinal remedies of all sorts, and even used to shroud the taste of poison in assassination attempts of greats such as Napoleon Bonaparte. From the early 18th century, chocolate brought via the "Triangle Trade" to Rhode Island and Boston is recorded according to bean size and value with regard to origin.

Touro Synagogue is the oldest standing Jewish synagogue in America and holds National Historic Register designation, as does Redwood Library, and the College Hill Historic District of Brown University in Providence. So one could surmise that the trade of chocolate and cocoa played an integral part in the founding of Rhode Island and its historic landmarks in Providence and surrounding areas.
resources:; Chocolate: history, culture and heritage, By Louis E. Grivetti, Howard-Yana Shapiro, copyright 2009. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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